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Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

Dreams Underfoot - Charles de Lint

This is an enjoyable collection of 19 linked short stories, of the sort of urban fantasy that mixes the ethereal and mundane. Just right for nighttime reading.

De Lint is a prolific Canadian author who has written many books set in the fictional city of Newford, of which this is the first; most of the stories were originally published in magazines in the late 80s and early 90s. They tend to feature bohemian types – artists, writers, musicians – and street people, encountering magic beneath the surface of everyday life. Many of the stories feel like modern fairy tales. For the most part I found them very satisfying reading, hitting all the right notes: sympathetic and believable characters, good writing and interesting plotlines that come to satisfying conclusions. Not every author can write a complete story from beginning to end in 20 pages, much less create reader investment in such a short time. De Lint can. It doesn’t hurt that some of the characters recur, but although every story can stand alone, I did not find the re-introduction of characters too repetitive.

The majority of De Lint’s protagonists are female, and although one begins to notice similarities (waif-like beauty, tragic or mysterious pasts), they are interesting characters who form friendships with each other and don’t revolve around men – indeed, Jilly, the closest the book has to a protagonist, isn’t attached to a man at all. De Lint does less well with minority characters, however; the one black character is a mute fortune-teller, and the story with a Latina narrator is full of forced and awkward uses of Spanish words and cultural references. My least favorite stories, however, were the two originally appearing in horror anthologies; that’s simply not my cup of tea. And another story beats readers over the head a little too hard with the “child abuse is bad!” stick. Finally, there are occasional mistakes that one more pass by a copyeditor could have corrected.

Overall, this gets 3.5 stars that could easily be rounded either way. I enjoyed this book, with its mix of bohemian life and the supernatural, and would consider reading more De Lint in the future.